During the Great Recession, 8 million Americans lost their jobs and household income dropped by 5 percent on average [source: Cho, Todd and Saksena]. When money is tight, budgets need to be even tighter and tough choices have to be made. Keeping food on the table is priority No. 1 for most families, which explains why grocery sales appear to be recession-resistant especially when compared to eating out at restaurants.
The USDA tracked food spending during the Great Recession and found some striking numbers. On one hand, Americans drastically cut back on spending on food away from home (both fast-food and full-service restaurants). From 2006 to 2010, restaurant spending fell by 18 percent or $47 billion and didn't return to pre-recession levels until 2016. Grocery store spending, on the other hand, was strong and steady throughout the Great Recession, actually growing by 8 percent from pre-recession to 2016 [source: Cho, Todd and Saksena].
While the total dollars spent at grocery stores remains steady during recessions, the items people buy do change. As unemployment rose during the Great Recession, Americans bought significantly more sale items, bulk products and generic goods, and they used more coupons than in pre-recession years [source: Gorman].